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Ruane defends school plans

23-12-2008

23/12/2008  ::  Northern Ireland  ::  The Irish News

Reform is essential to ensure schools are properly supported to deliver education to all children, Caitriona Ruane has said.

The education minister was responding to a challenge to key plans for change including the creation of a new body to replace the five area boards.

Fr Patrick Delargy, former head of the Governing Bodies Association, which represents grammar schools, said he had concerns about the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) and political control over the system.

Ms Ruane said when she introduced legislation to establish ESA that it would lead to the most fundamental reform of the education system in over 30 years.

It will take on the functions of the five boards, the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, the Staff Commission and the Youth Council.

However, Ms Ruane insisted the ownership and ethos of Catholic schools would not change.

“The RPA will not weaken the position of the trustees,” she said.

“In fact, their role will be recognised and underpinned in the RPA legislation.

“The trustees will determine the governance and employment arrangements that their boards of governors will operate.

“The ESA will create a much-needed focus for improving educational outcomes and ensuring equality of access to a curriculum that will match provision to the needs of learners.”

Fr Delargy, a former head of St Mac Nissi’s College, Garron Tower, also spoke about plans to replace the 11-plus, claiming a “clamour for comprehensive schooling” was distracting attention from a failure to solve social problems.

Ms Ruane said her views on academic selection were well known.

“For many children it is actually academic rejection,” she said.

“Not only is it against the basic principles of social justice but we have many examples of non-selective schools providing a high standard of education across a broad range for their young people, proving that academic selection is in fact unnecessary.

“The overwhelming majority of people involved in education recognise that the system is failing too many of our children, only some from the grammar sector are in denial about this.”

Ms Ruane has proposed phasing out academic selection using a temporary new test over the next three years, although unionists have pledged to block her plan and it is unclear what arrangements will be in place next year.

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